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Riley Bros. hot topic at meeting with lawmakers

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By Sue Dieter

Sun Tribune

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen and Rep. Torrey Westrom spent a few minutes on Friday talking with constituents at DeToys in Morris about the state budget, the bonding bill and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of the General Assistance Medical Care extension.

But nearly all of the 150 people at the town hall meeting wanted to talk about the Riley Bros. Construction Co.

The company has been suspended from bidding on state and federal projects after Joe and John Riley pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the IRS.

Earlier this month, company employees began a petition to allow the company to continue bidding on local, state and federal projects and, in turn, keep their jobs.

Westrom explained that he and Ingebrigtsen met last week with staff from the Department of Administration to learn what authority the Department has to debar the company. Their goal, Westrom said, was to figure out how to keep Riley Bros. on as a contractor with the state.

"Potentially, this seems punitive for the Department of Administration to follow through with debarment. The statute is not that old of a statute, with only one precedent decision. ... That is assuming you made the right decision in that case."

Ingebrigtsen said they have received many calls, letters and e-mails on the issue and he suggested that similar correspondence be made with the governor's office. Westrom encouraged people to call 651-296-3391 and offer respectful comments about the situation.

Morris City Manager Blaine Hill told the lawmakers that it doesn't matter how long a debarment was, it's bad news for the city.

"One year is going to take them out of business."

Hill added that the city of Morris is looking at the potential loss of $550,000 in Local Government Aid.

"Now you take a business out that creates all these jobs and pays all the taxes that they pay in this city, this county, along with the taxes that the employees pay...the economic impact of that one decision made by one administrator at the state level is absolutely huge during a time when the economy is so bad that we can't hardly stand to lose any jobs."

Westrom responded that he hopes that's what Hill says when he calls the governor.

Ingebrigtsen gave assurances that he and Westrom will continue to work with the Department of Administration and the Department of Transportation.

Westrom repeated his suggestion to contact the governor and Department of Administration.

The two lawmakers did also answer questions on the state budget, the bonding bill and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of the General Assistance Medical Care extension.

Ingebrigtsen said that while it seems like it's nothing more than "us versus them" at the Capitol, with the Republicans and the Democrats fighting. But he said there are examples of bipartisan legislation. He noted that he has co-signed a bill by Democratic Senator Gary Kubly that could potentially bring several hundred state prisoners to the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.

"And bring those jobs back to Appleton, even though that's not in my district."